Forrest BurtnetteEarly this May a new poll about religiosity in America was published by the Pew Research Center. It revealed that the percentage of American adults who describe themselves as Christians went down from 78.4% of the population in 2007 to 70.6% in 2014. In that same time period, American agnostics, or people who believe “nothing in particular” jumped up from 16.1% to 22.8%. People may not be sure about God, but they are as sure as ever about their political beliefs. Could it be that rigid secular beliefs have come to replace the rigidity of faith that was for so long the bedrock of this nation?

When America was forming, most founders believed that all men were sinful and corruptible. In order to deal with this uncomfortable reality they focused their energy on the promotion of two ideas. Firstly, they argued for strong safeguards that prevented men from gaining too much power, as that power would almost inevitably be abused, due to the imperfect nature of man. Secondly, they encouraged religiosity, realizing that a strong spiritual core would guide people through their time on this earth, bearing fruit both for the individual and for the new country.

Nowadays it’s upside down. Living by a God-directed inner moral code is passé, and religious-like faith in mortal men and their institutions is common. Because there is an ever-widening spiritual hole in the average American’s life, he must fill that hole with ideological political beliefs. Instead of deriving worth from religion and faith, people seek satisfaction from participation in leftist politics. Instead of talking about God and liberty, people talk about how much and how soon the government will provide for them. The guidance of the Lord is now replaced by the guidance of Obama and other government gods.

A 2011 study found that half of all American Jews have doubts about God’s existence compared to 10-15% of other religious groups who held the same doubts. Maybe that’s why the people of Judaism have flocked to the religion of liberalism in such great numbers. Nowadays American Jews study far more than they study the Torah.

There is no meeting someone halfway if you are on the other side of the political aisle. Telling a Democrat that the federal debt is very high and we should think of ways to lower it, would be like telling a moth to stay away from light bulbs in the night. They would reason that the government has tons more people to help, so debt lowering will have to be put on hold for practical reasons. Telling a liberal that in some instances, the U.S. military was positively impactful in the world is like telling the leader of ISIS that the new Lady Gaga album has some good stuff on it. In other words, it goes against the religion of liberals to hear anything that runs counter to the progressive narrative. The moth does not want to be tested and rethink its desire to fly into light bulbs, the ISIS leader does not want to rethink his hatred of the West, and the liberal does not want to rethink his contempt for conservatives.

Liberals do have a belief system and a deep abiding faith. Their faith is in central planners. OK, so you say Republicans can meet the left halfway too, that it’s not a one-way street. Well, that is true, but you have to admit the cards are stacked against Republicans in this respect. It’s much harder for a Republican to make his arguments, because on the face they seem cold and uncaring. Not so for Democrats. After all – extending benefits like food stamps, increasing regulation of industry, bloating the minimum wage, stopping war, paying men and women equally etc. – these things will obviously benefit certain certain American sub-segments. I mean – come on – that’s what the Democratic platform is built on – vote for us and we’ll “help” you – we will give you stuff and we’ll make peace with everybody.

Republicans see the other side of the story. They view the big picture, and through their grasp of the Constitution and understanding of certain unpleasant realities in the world they offer counter-arguments to the leftists. They point out the dangers of going too far with liberal policies. An intelligent left-leaning person would realize that applying big government policies too aggressively and without constraint would be an overall detriment to the nation. These middle-of-the-roaders are hard to find. Goodbye Joe Lieberman, hello Bernie Sanders.

Right now one half of the average American’s income goes to federal, state and/or local government in one form or another. What if 75% went to the government? Would that be acceptable to liberals, or would that policy enter a gray area where it would lead them to reconsider such onerous taxes? By the time Obama leaves office, he will have increased the federal debt by about 10 trillion dollars– a staggering amount. What if Hilary Clinton becomes president next and she unleashes a vast amount of government spending (to help people, of course), increasing the debt by $20 trillion? Would that enter the gray area in liberals’ minds and make them think maybe we should reign-in government spending? What if ISIS took over most of the Middle East and they were about to take over Turkey and Bulgaria? Would that be a gray area in which liberals would consider American military involvement against ISIS? What if 90% of Americans received food stamps? Would that be a gray area where the liberals finally realize something is horribly wrong and that more government welfare may not be the answer?

Like toddlers who push their parents to see how much they can get away with, liberals constantly push for a laundry list of issues they are indignant about. Welfare needs to INCREASE. Wars need to STOP. Corporations need to be TAXED MORE. It’s like a kid who wants just one more cookie, and one more, and one more. The child does not understand that there reaches a point of diminishing returns and that too many cookies will make him sick. Likewise, liberals do not realize that their ideas, if applied full-bore, will reach a point of diminishing returns.

There are many quotes about ambiguity and doubt – for example, “there are always two sides to every story,” and, “there’s a little bit of truth in every lie.” As Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said, “All theory, dear friend, is gray, but the golden tree of life springs ever green.”

I want to tell liberals that even though you feel 100% right on a plethora of issues – like NAFTA and TPP, corporate taxes and regulations, military readiness, rollback of the right to bear arms, coercive laws correcting bad social behaviors etc., there will come a time in your life when you will reconsider all your positions and your allegiance to progressivism will give way to a seasoned, healthy distrust of leftist policies.

Don’t distrust liberalism just because I’m telling you to. Read great thinkers and proponents of libertarianism and conservative thought and let the light bulbs go off in your own brain. Look with your own eyes at the failure of liberal policies. Read the stories of innocent people whose lives were ruined by the federal government. You may be 40 or 50 years old, but it’s never too late to say you were misguided by the leftists. You were misguided in your schools, by the media, by politicians, and by your own youthful emotions, and now you see more clearly. The right will welcome and congratulate you on your brave change of course. They will applaud you for your ability to cut through the thick vines and overgrowth of the liberal forest that surrounds us all.

If you have doubts about the wisdom of socialism and communism, let those doubts remain by your side, and be grateful for their awkward presence and the investigation they demand. As Rainer Maria Rilke wrote: “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

Let’s stop demonizing Republicans for slapping the wrists of kids about to consume their twentieth cookie. Republicans are simply trying to make gray what liberals see as black and white and vice versa. Charismatic leaders and their government solutions should be regarded as gray, and constant personal betterment through God’s guidance should be black and white. The wrongs that we see in society due to lack of a moral compass should not be used as a reason to take away our rights. The straying from God we see should not be replaced by tasking the government to correct the results of that straying. Let’s keep the Bible by our bedsides and let Karl Marx’s books languish on liberal professors’ bookshelves. Republicans are not the devil, a society that holds government in check is not hell, and socialism is not heaven. That should be black and white to us all.

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Forrest is a James Madison University graduate and has lived in Albemarle County for the last 15 years. He is married with kids and likes economics, history, politics, traveling, languages.and music among many other things.


  1. Forest, you make some excellent points, but it’s more than a little ironic that you quote Rilke on loving and living the questions, and then insist that the answers are black and white. Correct arguments are based on facts, but right from the first here, some of your facts contradict some of your arguments. You complain that “rigid secular beliefs have come to replace the rigidity of faith that was for so long the bedrock of this nation.” Obviously if 70.6 percent of Americans still describe themselves as Christians (and that’s not even counting Americans who profess other faiths, Abrahamic or otherwise), belief has not been “replaced” for the great majority of Americans.

    It is true, of course, that for some Americans “rigid” secularity has indeed replaced “rigid” belief. Rigidity begets rigidity in the same way that anger begets anger and offense produces defense. So we see “recovering fundamentalists” who are as adamantly opposed to conservative Christianity as they were formerly opposed to anything fundamentalists labeled liberal. Rigidity produces burn out, so some rigid Christians, and some kids born into Christian homes, bounce to the opposite extreme and become atheists. The opposite of faith, it’s been said, isn’t doubt, it’s certainty (rigidity). Mature faith doesn’t reject the questions and doubts that occur to all thinking people in the 21st century. Mature faith recognizes that other honest seekers might understand God differently. You guys bemoan the fact that orthodox Christian faith is in decline, but what you don’t understand is that your constant condemnation of your political and cultural opponents, your rigidity about their own faith journeys, is one big reason for that decline.

    When you talk about people seeking satisfaction in leftist politics instead of faith, you would have done better to leave out “leftist.” Because you’re right, a lot of people, often because they’ve rejected the Church, take their hope for a better world and throw it into politics. (You might at least express some empathy with these people, utopian as they are. With your dreams of getting the country back to the high moral standards it never really had, you guys are just as utopian – Arcadian, to be exact – as they are). But don’t you on the Right seek satisfaction the same way? Why else do you constantly complain about liberals? G.K. Chesterton was right when he was asked “what’s wrong with the world today” and he answered “I am.” That’s the Christian response. It’s not wrong to point out the other guy’s sin. It’s wrong to constantly complain about his sin as if it’s worse than yours in God’s eyes, when in fact Jesus died for all our sins.

    You rightly criticize the “demonizing” of conservatives by liberals, but at the same time you liken liberals to toddlers! That’s the pot calling the kettle black. Feeding the poor isn’t overindulging in cookies, it’s following the commands of Jesus. Healing the sick by giving them health care isn’t over-indulging in cookies, it’s doing what Jesus did. Attempting to slow global warming, which the great majority of climate scientists believe is being caused in significant part by humans, isn’t attempting to control people and deny individual liberty, it’s an attempt to steward the gift God gave us, to preserve and protect it for future generations. Conservatives love to boast that they’re the responsible ones, but conservation is conservative because conservation is responsible. You can argue that progressive programs don’t work, that they backfire, that they’re inefficient, that they create more problems than they solve, that they’re based on principles the Founding Fathers opposed, etc. All those arguments have some degree of legitimacy in my opinion (but that doesn’t mean conservatives necessarily have better solutions). But if you don’t want progressives to believe all the worst stereotypes about you, don’t traffic in all the worst stereotypes about them. The worst stereotypes are true of a minority of people on both sides – not of the majority.

    Liberals, by and large, haven’t rejected God. They haven’t “kicked God out of the Democratic Party.” What they have they rejected is the idea of God that they find too often on the Right, the God who is really mad about their sins but never about yours, the god who supposedly condemns homosexuality but never divorce, the God who supposedly cares about property rights and low taxes (where does Jesus say anything about property rights or individual liberty?), but never about greed and the pride of the supposedly self-made, self-sufficient man. Where in conservative Christian political commentary is the biblical Jesus who was “a friend of tax collectors and sinners”? Jesus didn’t hesitate to name sin, but he loved sinners, and that’s why he drew repentance. Many of you guys, from all appearances, not so much. Do you want to feel good about yourselves by comparison with liberals, or do you want liberals to actually listen to you?

    Here is former G.W. Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson, writing in the Washington Post about the decline of Christian belief and the church’s response to it:

    One option, clearly, is for conservative Christians to imagine themselves as an aggrieved and repressed remnant. This attitude is expressed as stridency, but it is really the fear of lost social position. America, once viewed as the New Israel, becomes the new Babylon. The church engages the world to diagnose decadence and defend its own rights.

    There is, however, another option being explored. Jim Daly, the president of Focus on the Family — once mission control for the family-values side of the culture war — calls Christians to be “a joyful minority.” “We are no longer effective at persuasion because we lack humility,” says Daly. “Some in the faith community are losing legitimacy among younger people because many Christians only speak truth and fail to do truth.”

    If you really care about your country, listen to Gerson.

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